Empowerment. Grit. Mental Toughness. These are current buzzwords. They may get a knee jerk reaction of an eye roll or other dismissing gesture. However, I think they indicate that we are moving in the right direction!
This year has been big for me, as in going outside of my comfort zone. I ran my first half marathon in January, at age 47. I started my own business in March. I hiked the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim in September. I had to work, and train, and plan hard for each of these – and FAIL at different levels before I had success. I had awful training runs, where I felt exhausted early on. I did 5 mile hikes where I wondered how I’d ever do 24 miles. I hit more hurdles than I care to remember in the first few months of launching Kids Empowered 4 Life. But I came through it all better, stronger, and wiser. It took grit. It took mental toughness. And yes, I felt so empowered by my own abilities that I signed up for that half marathon again, and plan to beat my 2019 race time in January 2020. In fact, most of today’s blog comes from thoughts I had during a hard training run this morning.
Tomorrow is World Occupational Therapy Day, and I’ve been thinking about my chosen profession. From its inception in the early 1900’s, the focus of OT has been the therapeutic use of everyday activities, or occupations, for patients and clients to participate in the things they want or need to do. The ultimate goals of OT are independence, and improved mental and physical health. I named my company Kids Empowered 4 Life because I believe that we all – children included – can be empowered to achieve and improve. Even my clients who are non-verbal or medically fragile can be given choices, can be shown dignity, and can grow from life experiences.
In school, I learned about the “just right challenge”. The just right challenge is where we need to be challenged to succeed – not too hard, not too easy. It is finding the right balance in a task so that it is not impossibly hard, nor ridiculously simple. The former would cause anger, frustration, and failure, while the latter could lead to boredom or apathy. Occupational therapists learn to work within this ideal range with clients and patients, ultimately empowering them to succeed. As success is achieved, we then begin to push our clients beyond this range, and this allows growth and improvement to occur.
How can we implement the “just right challenge” or foster grit, growth, and mental toughness with our kids? Here are 3 ways:
- Encourage your child to make choices, even from an early age. A toddler can be asked which color cup he wants, or which shoes she wants to wear. As he gets older, give him more freedom to come up with his own choices (when to do homework, how to tackle that school project, what his room will look like). We want to raise children who are aware that they have choices in this world and that they will not always be told by another person what to do.
- Allow your child to experience failure, loss, frustration, unexpected events and disappointment. Let him struggle and try to figure out what to do. Be a safe place for the emotions that come with those experiences and try not to patronize or minimize her feelings. “Shake it off” or “it’s not a big deal” are not phrases that are helpful. Instead, validate the emotions and talk about what could be done differently, or what lesson was learned. Do differentiate between “big deal” and “little deal” but not in the moment of heavy emotions. Your “little deal” may be her “big deal”. Listen and learn about what is important to her. Teach resilience through modeling (don’t lose your cool over small things in front of your children) and talking through your own struggles as you deal with them (car or house repairs, unexpected situations occurring are okay – but nothing that could unnecessarily stress out your child like major medical issues or relationship changes).
- Talk with your child about difficult topics. Ask her opinion, and the problem solving or thought process that went into forming that opinion. Give him credit for his insights, even if you don’t agree. We are raising our children to be independent, free-thinking adults. Repeating what they hear from parents as their own opinion is not giving them the power to figure things out on their own. Slow down and really listen to what your child tells you. Don’t jump in and offer solutions or opinions (as kids get older, they don’t want them, anyway!). Just listen and have conversations. You may be surprised at what you learn!
So on this almost World OT day, I challenge you to implement the “just right challenge” with your own child, no matter the age. You are helping to grow the next generation of entrepreneurs, creators, independent thinkers, and overall wonderful human beings!